In 2018, Atlanta business owner Derrick Hayes ranked top ten in the world for sandwiches by World Food Championships. To win the title, he converted the provided barbecue grill into a flat top grill because there wasn’t one available. So, I actually ranked top ten in the world on a grill that wasn’t one that I could cook cheesesteaks on. Since then, Derrick and his restaurant, Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks, have been on a mission to create a legacy that’s bigger than food.
Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks started when Derrick decided he wanted to do something with his life to honor his father Dave who passed away from lung cancer in 2009. I wanted to do something with my life to honor him. I like to cook, so that was my motivation to honor him the best way I could.
As an Atlanta transplant, Derrick chose cheesesteaks because they reminded him of growing up in West Philadelphia. Being a kid in Philly you always wanted to get you a cheesesteak or water ice. So, I brought that concept to the South because I wanted to bring a real Philly product. … I felt that me bringing something authentic that I grew up off of would be something amazing to bring to the South.
Derrick learned to cook from his grandfather Troy Hayes. He then created a restaurant with an atmosphere that the world dreams of having. Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks is a place where all races can come together and enjoy food made with love.
On weeknights, the Atlanta eatery is a place where the grown can enjoy good food and a drink after work. On the weekends, Big Dave’s is filled with families.
My grandfather] taught me everything I know in the kitchen. I feel like I have a gift at making seasonings and making people really love my food. We cook with love. It’s not just like we cooking. We are cooking an experience. … I feel like right now Big Dave’s is the real reason for making America great again.
While Derrick wont give away his secret ingredients, he did have this to say about his cooking: I actually came up with certain seasonings that I use with Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks. People really love them so I think that’s what makes my sandwiches different.
Big Dave’s is becoming a landmark in Atlanta and for good reason. When people come, they come and take pictures with the big logo I have on the wall. It’s starting to feel like a landmark so it’s bigger than food, it’s bringing people together. My mission is starting to go in the right way that I dreamed of doing.
Derrick Hayes is a man committed to his community. Even in the early days of his business, he made efforts to give back. I do a lot of givebacks. I started doing Christmas givebacks for the kids when I first started my business. Then I started sponsoring schools. This year my windows got broke out on the riot of George Floyd. I seen [sic] how the community stood behind me and how much they supported me in everything that I was going through.
Following that event, Pinky Cole, owner of Slutty Vegan restaurant teamed up with Hayes to support the family of Rayshard Brooks. The Atlanta entrepreneurs donated a car, secured scholarships, and set up life insurance for Rayshard’s widow, Tomika Miller, and her three children.
All of this journey that I’m going through right now is much bigger than me. I have goals and dreams of helping the community just like I do feeding them. So it’s bigger than food, definitely.
Hayes and Cole are now working on getting life insurance on twenty-five thousand Black men in Atlanta.
Hayes hopes to see more positive role models in his community and around America. His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs:
I would tell anyone who has a dream to start getting focused. You have to get your mindset. That is the strongest tool you have on the human body is your mind. Once you have failure is not an option, and you go in tunnel vision, and you just don’t give up, you will exceed your dreams times ten. I tell people all the time if you were a basketball player and you had a basketball in your hand, one day you are going to shoot that ball and you’re gonna make a basket. That’s your shot. So you have to make sure when you get that shot you’re ready for it. So, the whole thing is to stay prayed up, believe in God and go at your dream as hard as you can go. Don’t let nobody tell you that you can’t do it. Take all the nos and turn them into yeses. That would be my best advice.
Derrick, who is a big fan of sports and food, says his greatest joy comes from making other people happy. I feel like, as I grow older, I start to understand my purpose for being here. I feel like a vessel. I feel like [God] brought me here to empower other people. I feel like a pastor without actually being in church. That’s how I take it from day to day. I get my thrills from seeing other people smiling.
Hayes is proud to be Black and is a great supporter of the culture. Being a Black man in America, I can just say this one thing: First off, I love being a Black man. We’re so amazing when it comes to our brain. We’re intelligent. I just want us to, more as a whole, to understand how powerful we are and how much we really change the world on a daily because without us a lot of stuff would not be created or running right now in 2020. I just want our queens and kings to let each other know that we’re special. We’re geniuses. We just have to know that in our heart and stick together and the world will see that.
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